Dr Bonnie Lynch takes on the 10-question-interview to give some great perspectives on creating a career that is just perfect for you, rather than living up to the expectations of everyone around you. This post is part of a series of posts profiling careers after teaching.
What are your qualifications and experience in classroom teaching?
I have a PhD in experimental psychology from Yale University, and I taught for seven years, first at Humboldt State University in California, then at the University of Dundee School of Medicine in Scotland. Oh, and I’ve taught fitness for 30 years–actually longer than I’ve done anything else, career-wise! You definitely learn a lot about teaching from leading exercise classes, and much of what I learned there informed how I taught in the regular classroom, and vice versa.
How do you explain what you currently do to make a living?
I create online continuing education courses for psychologists, and I also offer self-help strategies and information for improving work, life, and the balance between the two.
Can you give some background about how you decided to leave the classroom?
I loved teaching, but realized that the research part of both my academic jobs was what really lit me up (not grading papers or holding office hours), and research was always a strong skill I had, too. At that time, starting my own business wasn’t even on my radar; I just knew that I wanted to find a way to do more of what I loved the most. When my first husband finished grad school and it was apparent that he wouldn’t find a suitable job where I was teaching, it seemed like a good time to make a switch.
How long did it take you to make the transition?
You could either say that I made it twice, or that I never made it at all. I never left teaching, really, because I’ve continued to teach fitness classes throughout my career, wherever I went and whatever else I did. But in terms of classroom teaching, it was a quick transition both times. This may be a hallmark of the entrepreneurial spirit: I just get tired of doing the same thing in the same way, with the same boss, at the same place, year after year. So I quit my first academic job, did some consulting and worked in a couple of private research firms for about eight years, then decided I wanted to move to Scotland and was lucky enough to land another academic job that involved both teaching and research. Again, I enjoyed teaching fitness as a side gig, and the research part of my academic job was the part I loved most. So I had some good chances to learn, multiple times, what felt really good to me, what I was most talented at, and how long it took for me to get bored with any given thing. It was 2007 when I finally decided that the ideal job would be one that I’d create for myself as a solopreneur.
What are the top three things someone should know or do in order to successfully change careers?
1. Observe yourself while you’re in the career you want to leave. Understand what it is exactly that you do and don’t want to change. Is it possible that you need time off, rather than a career change? Or could you be happy doing a similar job in a different location, with different people, or with slightly different responsibilities?
2. If your career change will affect those close to you (for example, if your income will change drastically or if you’ll be without income for a time), talk honestly with them about it. People find it easier to be supportive if they are included early, rather than late, in the process. Talking to loved ones early also helps them understand that your career change isn’t a whim, but a strategically planned move that will benefit everyone in the long run (because when you’re happier, you can be a better partner, caregiver, friend, etc.).
3. Explore beyond the careers or jobs you already know about, especially if you’re contemplating a shift to a different field or industry. There are almost always more different kinds of work than you will know about unless you’ve done your homework. There may be something even better for you out there than what you’re considering.
What is the best way to get started?
In most cases, I think an attitude adjustment is the best way to start, especially if you’re feeling really antsy for a change. Big changes often start as small ones, so even if all you do in the first three months of making your career change is research your options, you are still moving toward your goal.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to do what you have done?
Don’t ever think “I’m too old,” or “I’ve been in this career too long to do anything else,” or any other self-defeating things like that. They aren’t true, and they aren’t helpful, so just cut it out already.
What were some of the problems you faced?
My biggest problem was cultural. It was my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Get a good job with health insurance and retirement!” (with the hidden message that once I get a job like that, I’d be crazy to leave it). It was my corner office and hefty salary (also chanting that “You’d be crazy to leave” mantra). It was my Ivy League degree, saddled with all the expectations that such things bring. (Could something I enjoyed and was really good at also be worthy of the degree I’d worked so hard to get? And what would my peers think? I actually wrote a piece about this in which I liken it to trying to swim in a winter coat.) In every case, I had to let go of an identity that someone else had in mind for me and remind myself that this is MY life and these are MY choices.
Which teaching skills have proved to be most valuable?
There are several that have been valuable, but two come to mind right away. First, the art of looking and listening for the response to what I’m doing has been really helpful. As a new teacher, I was like a fire hose: Lots of high-powered stuff washing over everyone, with little awareness of whether I was hitting the mark or just drowning people. Learning to pay attention in the moment to how my message is being received is a great skill for me when I do public speaking, participate in networking events, or just talk to colleagues. And with that skill comes the skill of pivoting when the message isn’t being received or understood well. Second, because teaching is so often a solitary activity in terms of preparation, testing and grading, and tutoring students who need it, all of this helped me become comfortable with taking full responsibility for my work and how well it turns out. When something has fallen flat in the classroom, it’s never been the students’ fault; it was a signal that I needed to do something differently. So in my new career as a solo business owner, I already felt really comfortable with the idea that if a product or service isn’t going over well, it’s not because there’s something wrong with my customers; it’s that I need to do a better job of solving their problem.
If you had one secret to give about changing careers what would it be?
I think it’s just this, which is a favorite quote of mine: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” If you feel you need a change, go get it. Something you can really love is out there for you.